The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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March 15, 2014

Free gift in the mail? Keep it

Recently someone asked me if they needed to pay for merchandise they received in the mail, which they did not order. They received an item they did not order, and later received a bill for the item.

The answer is “no.” Not “maybe not,” or “it depends,” or “sometimes.” The answer is always “no.” If you receive merchandise you did not order, it is your legal right to keep it as a free gift. And you are under no obligation to notify the sender you refuse to pay, or that you plan to keep the merchandise.

This rule applies no matter the value of the merchandise. If you are feeling anxious or guilty about keeping something, you can send a letter to the sender, notifying them you did not order from them, and intend to keep the product. The Federal Trade Commission tells us this action may discourage the sender from sending out bills or dunning notices, or it could help clear up an honest mistake. If you send such a letter, send it by certified mail (which will cost more than a 49-cent stamp), keep the return receipt and a copy of the letter for yourself.

Rarely you might receive something delivered to you by mistake. For instance, you receive a package addressed to someone else, at your address, or someone delivered the package to the wrong address. If it seems clear to you this is an error, write the sender and offer to return the package, provided the sender pays for shipping and handling.

Give the sender a specific timeframe to do this, say two weeks or one month, to get this done. If they don’t handle the matter at no expense to you, keep the merchandise.

This kind of scam crops up from time to time. Someone will send out a “free trial offer” of merchandise, and later bill for it. Perhaps you sent for a trial offer of one item, and then you received four instead, accompanied by a bill for the three extra.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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